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Michelle Knight, Cleveland kidnapping victim, to Ariel Castro: "Your hell is just beginning"

Michelle Knight sits in the courtroom during a break in the sentencing phase for Ariel Castro Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Knight one of the victims of Castro testified at the sentencing Thursday. The appearance by Knight is the first time she?s been seen publicly since her rescue from the house where she was held captive for ten years. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) CBS

Cleveland kidnapping victim Michelle Knight, 32, addressed her captor Ariel Castro during his sentencing hearing Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013.
CBS

(CBS) -- Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro was spared the death penalty when he pleaded guilty July 26 to more than 900 counts including kidnapping, torture and rape for imprisoning three women in his home for about a decade.

Addressing her captor in court during his sentencing hearing Thursday, one of his victims said capital punishment would have been "so much easier" than a life sentence for the 53-year-old, who staunchly denied in court that he ever raped or tortured his victims.

PICTURES: Disturbing new photos from inside Castro home

PICTURES: Ohio women missing for nearly a decade found alive

"You don't deserve that," said Michelle Knight, 32, who was rescued from Castro's home in May along with Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. "You deserve to spend the rest of your life in prison."

Castro was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years. As he pleaded guilty last month, Castro said he understood the plea deal means he will never be released from prison.

Speaking through tears in an emotional statement before the judge handed down his sentence, Knight described her 11 years in captivity as an "eternity."

"You took 11 years of my life away, and now I have got it back," Knight said. "I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning."

READ: Full text of victim impact statements from Michelle Knight, Beth Serrano and Sylvia Colon

Knight began to cry as she described missing her son during her time in captivity, who was two and a half years old at the time she was taken. "Christmas was the most traumatic day," she said. "I never got to spend it with my son."

She described Gina DeJesus as her friend and "teammate."

"She nursed me back to health when I was dying from his abuse," she said. "My friendship with her was the only thing good out of this situation. We said we would someday make it out alive, and we did."

(VIDEO: Michelle Knight: "You will face hell for eternity")

Numerous witnesses testified for prosecutors during Castro's sentencing hearing Thursday, during which Castro said he was"not a monster" and portrayed himself as a "sick" person addicted to masturbation and pornagraphy. The witnesses outlined how he abducted the women from the same Cleveland street and held them captive for about ten years. He also kept their captivity secret from friends, family and the community. Prosecutors then displayed photographs of the interior of the home and used a model of the structure as witnesses detailed how Castro restrained the women and abused them psychologically and physically.

Castro abducted Knight on Aug. 22, 2002, as she was attempting to find a social worker who was in charge of her son's case, said Detective Andy Harasimchuk of the Cleveland Police Department Sex Crime Unit in court.

Castro approached her and offered to help. She accepted his assistance and got into his car, Harasimchuk said, because she knew Castro's daughter Emily.

Castro asked Knight if she wanted to come inside the home to get a puppy for her son, Harasimchuk said. But once inside, Castro restrained Knight with extension cords. After being left for several hours, he said Castro took Knight to the basement, where he restrained her with chains and plastic ties, placed a motorcycle helmet on her head, and sexually assaulted her.

Knight was impregnated several times throughout her captivity, but Castro starved her, kicked and punched her in the stomach, jumped up and down on her stomach, forced her to exercise and fed her rotten food until she miscarried, Harasimchuk said.

Witnesses said Knight was forced to deliver Berry's daughter, Joceyln, under threat of death from Castro. When the baby wouldn't breathe, Knight breathed into her mouth to revive her, witnesses said.

"She brought life into that child," said Frank Ochberg, a forensic psychiatrist called to the stand, describing  her as a "courageous and heroic individual."

PICTURES: Ariel Castro sentenced to life without parole

When she first discovered Knight in the darkened home, Cleveland police officer Barbara Johnson said Knight "literally launched" herself into an officer's arms.

"I told her, 'It's ok, honey, you're safe,'" Johnson said. "She came over to me jumped into my arms."

"She just kept repeating, 'You saved us, You saved us,'" Johnson said.

Knight was having difficulty breathing during the emotional rescue, Johnson said, and appeared so tiny she thought she was a little girl.

Family members for Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry also gave victim impact statements to the court Thursday.

"Today, we will close this chapter of our lives," said Sylvia Colon, who described herself as a cousin and spokesperson for the family of DeJesus.

Castro abducted DeJesus, who was friends with his daughter Arlene "Rosie" Castro, in April of 2004 after asking her to help him find his daughter, Harasimchuk said. Castro lured DeJesus into the home by asking her to help him move a stereo to the car, he said, and trapped her in the basement by telling her the door was an exit.

Once in the basement, he restrained the girl, then 14, and sexually assaulted her, Harasimchuk said.

Colon thanked supporters and investigators in court. "Our beloved family member thrives, laughs, swims, dances, and more importantly, she loves and she is loved," Colon said. "She will finish school, go to college, fall in love, and if she chooses, she will get married and have children."

Turning to Castro, Colon spoke in Spanish, saying only, "May God take pity on your soul."

Speaking for her sister, Amanda Berry, Beth Serrano pleaded for privacy.  Berry was concerned her 6-year-old daughter may learn about the horrors of her captivity "the wrong way and at the wrong time," she said.

(VIDEO: Ariel Castro's full statement to the court)

"I lost my sister all those years, I thought it was forever," Serrano said, crying.

Berry was abducted in April of 2003 when she was 16 years old. She got into Castro's van after she had finished her shift at a local Burger King, Harasimchuk said, because she thought she recognized a woman in his van. Castro lured her into his home by telling her his daughter Angie, whom she knew, was there. Once inside, Harasimchuk said, he restrained her and sexually assaulted her.

The sisters' mother died without knowing her daughter's fate, said Serrano.

"Amanda is not here today," Serrano said. "She is strong and beautiful, inside and out....she's not only my sister, she's the best friend I have, the best person I know."

Admonishing Castro in court just before his sentencing, Judge Michael Russo said Castro perceived himself to be a victim, and not the three women.

Russo addressed the victims, saying they "have persevered, and in fact, they've prevailed."

Turning to Michelle Knight just before court adjourned, he said, "We wish each of you success and a sense of peace."

Complete coverage of the Cleveland kidnapping case on Crimesider

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.

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